Witnessing Consent for an Autopsy

Patty Bertheaud Summerhays

“They just cut the abdomen like an operation, look in and sew him up. No one will know.”

I know the inside story–the body parts,
the heart, brain, liver, lungs,
kidney, spleen, bowel, and bladder
sliced on a cutting board
like loaves of bread.
The coroner donning a butcher’s apron
splattered with blood from the last
scrape of blade over bone,
slipping off the scalp like a mask.
The eyes stopping him 
like the end of sentences until
he doesn’t feel the frown of brow–
anger as he drills to its roots.

Emotions leaving both men
with a grasp of brain.

A slice of brain placed in formaldehyde
jiggles like a thought trying to collect its thoughts.

Every organ shredded and a piece
saved until the jar is filled with
a body of its own.
The leftovers gathered 
into a plastic bag and placed
back into the body
like a well-kept secret.

A secret longing for a slip
of the tongue.

About the poet:

Patty Bertheaud Summerhays received her MFA in poetry from George Mason University in 1991. She worked as an intensive-care nurse in hospitals in the northeastern U.S. and as a nurse and ESL teacher in Mexico and Guatemala. Patty’s poems have been published in The American Poetry Review and other journals. She died of colon cancer in October 2009, at age forty-eight.

About the poem:

This poem, written when Patty was in her late twenties, draws on her experiences while working in hospitals.

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

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Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"